Comment at end
UPDATE, 26th June: France’s President Sarkozy has been making some noises on the burka, which would NEVER be heard here in Britain under Brown or Cameron. The only frontbench politicians who mentioned it in recent years were Tony Blair and Jack Straw, and they were shouted down. Now we have the rise of the Right across Europe including Britain after the EU elections. It IS time to re-visit this. Honestly, it is.
Comment at end
29th May, 2009
Not sure where this was picture was taken, but it could have been Tower Hamlets, if Matthew Parris’s article is accurate.
MY FAMILY PHOTO
On the left is my wife, in the middle is my mother-in-law, beside her is my sister and on the right is my sister-in-law.
No, I believe that the person in the middle is my wife, beside my sister-in-law and to the right is my mother-in-law and left is my mother …
My memory is not that good any more, and I do not know if my daughter was with us that day.
I believe that she could be the person on the right but I am not that sure. The only thing I can be sure of is that my wife is in the middle …
Or maybe not …
Oh, this is so troublesome!
WHILE IN BRITAIN – REMOVE THEM. THEY ARE FRIGHTENING, INTIMIDATING, INSENSITIVE, NOT OUR CUSTOM AND ABOVE ALL RUDE!
I care not a toss about another culture, especially when it cares so little for mine. I would drop ALL of my cultural habits, as expected, while in a Muslim land.
Britain is not and never will be a Muslim land.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Funny to return from Lebanon, Syria and Turkey – where women go unveiled – and return to Britain, the land of the full hijab. I see more women with their faces covered in Tower Hamlets than I did in Damascus.
I used to think that covering the whole face except for the eyes was the normal Islamic custom (in a week in Afghanistan I hardly saw a woman’s face) and so was surprised to find that even in Syria, the most culturally conservative of the Middle Eastern countries I’ve just visited, not a tenth of the women seem to cover their faces. Most (by no means all) cover their heads, but you don’t get that closed, turning-away feeling you sense along the Whitechapel Road in the East End of London. In the Damascus streets, women in all-women groups, and women with men, chat and laugh; and I saw to be true (what some Muslims have already told me) that the full hijab cannot be considered a religious duty, but is simply a cultural feature of some societies that are Muslim, but not others.
If so, how far should we tolerate it? Spitting is a cultural feature in China but we discourage it here. In Syria I took my shoes off to enter mosques, though that is not in my culture; and wouldn’t have worn clothing like skimpy shorts or vests, or drunk alcohol in the streets: practices offensive not to me but to the mainstream culture where I was.
Knowingly to disturb people’s feelings is to be offensive. In Western European society, to go out in public with your face masked is (unless done for comic effect) disturbing. Hiding the face is felt to be threatening, and slightly scary, and subliminally this goes way back, and quite deep I think: it certainly frightens children.
Would it be wrong to try to convey to communities in Britain who adopt the full hijab that, though it is a woman’s legal right to dress as she chooses, she should recognise that she’s in a country where many people will find a masked face disturbing, and that (without meaning to) she is acting in a culturally inappropriate manner, which may offend? Do the masked women I see in the street in Whitechapel actually know this? I cannot say, because I’ve never spoken to them: or, rather, when I do, they look away and walk away.
This too, in Britain, is rude. Do they know? Shouldn’t they?